Aficionados of Nickelodeon's iconic square-panted hero will largely agree Battle for Bikini Bottom is the best SpongeBob game. Nearly two decades later, developer Purple Lamp Studios brought it back with a full remake, and it was clear fans were hungry for something fresh. The team's response is SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake, a game which builds upon the gameplay of the 2020 remake with some original ideas of its own. The result? This feels like the remake of a PS2-era platformer that never existed.
It follows much of the same design seen in Battle for Bikini Bottom, giving the game an old school feel. Like the 20-year-old fan fave, Cosmic Shake lets you explore a simple hub world, with several relatively large levels branching off. SpongeBob feels very similar to control as he did before, only this time he has a few new tricks. It also features Tiki crates, big slide sections, and a handful of boss encounters. If you played the remake from a couple of years back, you'll know roughly what to expect in terms of gameplay.
Instead of using bus stops to travel to each stage, you'll use large portals to warp to alternate dimensions of Bikini Bottom. That's because SpongeBob gets his hands on a magical bubble wand that grants wishes, and of course, he gets a little carried away. His wishes disrupt his hometown with dimensional rifts, flinging his friends across reality — even Patrick is caught in the chaos, turned into a balloon. The pair are tasked with traveling to each dimension and retrieving their lost buddies to put things right.
It's a good excuse to provide some varied levels with neat themes; you'll visit the wild west, a film set, the stone age, and more, and SpongeBob always has a costume to match. Each level's location is riffing off something from the cartoon series, resulting in seven distinct, fun environments that'll be familiar to fans of the show. It's clear the developer took just as much inspiration from the series as it did the previous game, if not more so.
As mentioned, the platforming and combat mostly stick to the blue print used for Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated. SpongeBob's double jump, stomp, and basic spin attack are all here, and they feel decent enough to pull off. New abilities include gliding, a mid-air karate kick, a bubble that can activate certain switches or temporarily trap enemies, and swinging from fishhooks. These extra abilities are doled out one at a time, giving the adventure a nice sense of progression. There's a touch of jankiness with some of these, like the fishhook swing, but it's okay once you get used to it.
The gradual gathering of new abilities means you'll have reasons to revisit past levels. Each stage has secrets or alternate paths you can't interact with on your first go, so if you want to see and do everything, you'll need to retrace your steps once SpongeBob is powered up. It's the same for the hub, which gradually grows and changes, introducing small challenges and minigames.
Speaking of revisiting stages, characters in the hub will also offer you side quests. These are very simple, amounting to finding X number of Y in stage Z, but it gives you an excuse to dive back in and explore the levels a little more. Golden doubloons are your reward, which can also be found throughout each level, and these are used to unlock more costumes for SpongeBob. There are dozens of these, and while they're purely cosmetic, nearly all of them are lifted from the series, so they're a nice bonus for fans.
Jelly is also everywhere in each level, which you'll gather in the thousands as you crack open Tikis and defeat enemies. The only purpose for Jelly is to purchase the outfits you unlock, so you'll wind up with a big surplus of the stuff. The dimensional jelly monsters you fight are loosely based on the enemies from Rehydrated, with some shooting at you from afar, larger ones requiring multiple hits to take down, and so on. Using SpongeBob's regular attack, his karate kick, and ground pound will get you through each fight, but we found battles to be more of a nuisance than anything. They're not hard and some enemies are just annoying to fight. Again, it just feels like design from a bygone era.
That sentiment extends to the boss encounters too. Each level ends with some form of boss fight, and they're fine but not something you'd want to repeat. You'd be happy with them in 2003. Some are a touch more inspired, like the western stage's pursuit of Mr. Krabs along a train, and another tasking you with serving cake while a witch attacks from above. The more traditional ones that have you jumping over expanding shockwaves while fending off regular baddies feel pretty played out, though.
While the adventure is fun enough from beginning to end, the presentation isn't quite there to support it. Visually the game is pretty nice, evoking the cartoon with colourful locations and characters. However, cutscenes feel oddly erratic, with the timing on cuts sometimes so fast you barely have time to process what was shown, or the joke that was just made. Cuts to gameplay can also feel a little jarring. Conversations you progress yourself are okay but sometimes include those grotesque close-ups from the show. They're often a highlight of the cartoons, but they don't work here. That's because there are too many of them to make a real impact, they don't feel earned, and they're delivered with almost no sense of comedy.
Unfortunately, this leads onto the topic of bugs. The game is seriously rough around the edges, with numerous small issues popping up during our 15 hours of playtime. Conversations would occasionally cut off audio, music sometimes layered over itself, and interactive objects needed to progress temporarily vanished. Most of these bugs are pretty harmless, but they leave a mark on an otherwise nice-looking title. While the developer has promised post-launch updates will address many issues, for now the game is a little shaky.
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake is an earnest effort to produce another great game for the character, but it hasn't completely worked. The premise is good, the level design is imaginative, and there's a clear love for the IP with its countless references and costumes. However, some of the gameplay feels very dated, while a number of presentational shortcomings and a laundry list of bugs hold it back. If you're a big SpongeBob fan, there's absolutely a good time to be had here, but a general lack of polish and some played-out design mean it's not quite the sweet victory we were hoping for.